Editorial

Champ Car Report Card 2007
 
by Mark Cipolloni

 September 25, 2007

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Let's take a look at the health of Champ Car by analyzing what it is doing better than a year or two ago, what has taken a step back, and what has stayed the same.

Gained

New DP01 – good looking, good performance, reliable

Standing Starts - significant improvement over rolling starts.  Kudos for whoever proposed it

Push-to-Pass - Kudos for whoever proposed it, but it needs more HP

ESPN contract - but ratings are still not good and lower than its chief competitor, the IRL

Assen – a good Euro venue with enthusiastic fans. But what will happen if Doornbos leaves the series?  Great race promoter

Robert Doornbos – enthusiastic guy, great driver.

Graham Rahal – American, young, enthusiastic guy, great driver. Seems like he’ll be somewhere else in a year or two because he keeps talking about F1.  Won't get a shot at F1 unless he starts winning in Champ Car soon

Will Power – a consistent front runner

Mazda – a big supporter of Atlantics and CCWS by any measure. A great addition, but Champ Car engine still needs to be badged.

Cleveland – promoter seems to have a good formula to revive the race.

Medizone – a real sponsor paying real money, or so it seems.

Tony Cotman – nothing but praise from everywhere we read and all the racing we see.  The racing's good and no one is complaining about the officiating now

Atlantic Series - good fields, great racing, fun to watch if telecasts can be found.

Eurosport - Not perfect, but a bright spot on the TV front

European Races - Champ Car proved it can become more international.  Now it needs to expand upon that success in 2008 and beyond

European media coverage - A bright spot this year.  Helped make European races a success

Paul Newman - If not for his continued support  not sure where series would be right now

CDW - Only sponsor that cares enough to run full page ads in major newspapers.  At least they activate their sponsorship.

Lost

Schedule – 14 races spread over 8 months. Huge gaps. Little date equity. Pathetic. Check out the IRL.

TV ratings – embarrassing, almost non-existent and series still cannot even produce cumulative international viewers per race to help sponsors justify their participation in the series.  Competition will have all high-definition TV broadcasts in 2008.  Will Champ Car?

Lack of TV in key markets - no live TV in Mexico and Australia had no coverage until half of season was gone

Majority of mainstream media ignores Champ Car. Some major newspapers don’t even show race results, let alone run an editorial mention or a story. Print media has long abandoned the series. And even the web would be devoid of CCWS content without a few racing websites, media from some current race markets, and the content that Champ Car produces for ESPN.com

Robin Miller and Gordon Kirby – two of the most respected reporters, sympathetic with CCWS for years, now spewing evil things about it. These were go-to figures for open wheel fans, and still are, who got pushed aside because they tried to tell CCWS where they were going wrong.

17 cars? Give us a break. To promise 22-24 and fall that far short is embarrassing. Series in desperate need of more teams and 22-24 cars consistently

Sebastien Bourdais – Soon to be 4x champ and winner of half of past four year’s races leaving

Oriol Servia – one of the more popular personalities in a thin paddock loses ride after outperforming his teammate

AJ Allmendinger – Atlantic grad, strongest American identity and strong personality, was beating Bourdais, now gone

Nelson Philippe – young, race winner, charismatic personality, now gone

Andrew Ranger – Atlantic grad, young, charismatic, Canadian draw, now gone

Ryan Dalziel – Atlantic grad, charismatic, fan favorite, good driver, gets sacked after beating his teammate

Ryan Hunter-Reay - Atlantic grad, young, charismatic, American was proven race winner.  Now helping the IRL grow in popularity

China debacles x2 – loss of international and FIA credibility.  Still no Chinese driver in Champ Car, yet series still thinks it can race in China and have success.  Amazing.

Phoenix debacle – US and potential venue credibility

Korea debacle - negative effects still linger

San Jose surprise – a seemingly successful example of a “Three Day Festival of Speed” can’t hack it. The 100k plus fans in SJ will turn into 20k at Laguna Seca. On top of it city gives money for three years to support race, but when money stops, race gets cancelled.  Try and sell new street races in the USA now.

Mexico – once a stronghold and source of sponsors and drivers, now it is barely on the open wheel map. NASCAR’s gain

Montreal – NASCAR’s gain

Portland – can’t seem to make it work

Ford – pushes away a manufacturing partner with at least some advertising dollars and credentials before it has a replacement lined up

Lots of promising drivers from Atlantics - gone elsewhere

Cristiano da Matta – another former champ gone but not Champ Car's fault

Katherine Legge – great personality but the results are not there

Credentials within the racing world - given race cancellations.

Detroit – the IRL reinvented the Detroit GP and did a good job with corporate and city support. Decent crowd, proves they can do street races just as good as Champ Car

Mid-Ohio – the IRL likely drew more to this event, with ALMS, than Champ Car did at any domestic road course this year, but Honda had a huge free ticket giveaway to their employees.

Ovals – the mantle of most diverse open wheel racing series now exclusively belongs to the IRL.

CDW / Justin Wilson – this potential loss would cost the series one of its best drivers and one of its few real sponsors.  Add to that every other sponsor that has looked at or tried the series only to abandon it

Lack of Continuity – see all of the above

Disappearance of Gerald Forsythe - appears to have lost interest in Champ Car as he never comes to races anymore.  No explanation from Champ Car.

Empty sidepods - still too many cars with blank sidepods or non-activating sponsors

A wash

The racing – seems about the same as it always was – really good at times and boring other times.

Las Vegas – mixed reactions. Good race track, decent crowd with plenty of empty seats. Will it be back for year two? If so, will people pay to see it?  Must be season finale.  Must.

Zolder – fair track, lackluster attendance

Mt. Tremblant – cool track, great fans but, relatively speaking, not that many of them. A very low profile North American event.

Elkhart Lake – pairing with ALMS provided a decent crowd. Without ALMS…….?

Houston – though the promoter seems to do as good a job as possible, what an unappetizing event it appears to be on TV. Parking lots are not attractive. Attendance seemed decent.

Red Bull – this sponsor appears to be there for no reason other than as a payback for cancelling their F1 Cosworth contract early. With no Champ Car activation we get the feeling that they won't be back for year two.

Paul Stoddart – but where’s Cedric?

Minardi 2 seater – F1x2 sounds great, people love it.  However, this is Champ Car, not F1. What happened to the Champ Car two-seater?

Events in Australia, Long Beach, Edmonton, and Toronto remain strong, but growth is hampered by lack of driver 'heroes' to draw more fans, but Surfers should remain strong with Will Power running up front.

Paul Tracy - A great personality and fierce competitor.  Remains loyal to the series but how many cars did he crash this year?  If he keeps it up he might even bankrupt Gerald Forsythe.

McDonald's - Big name sponsor, little or no activation.

Onboard starters - great idea, but they did not work.  A fix is supposedly in the works

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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